By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
The Lyric Opera introduces the opera world to a local singer who hails from the Washington Park neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Whitney Morrison was recently accepted as one of the newest members of Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center, which is considered the training ground for rising stars in the opera world. Earning this distinction was not an easy task, and Morrison’s story is incredible as is the soprano voice that she brings to this genre of music. Morrison won the Audience Choice award at the highly competitive Ryan Opera Center final auditions. In the upcoming Lyric season, she will debut as the Countess Ceprano in Rigoletto – her character is seduced by Matthew Polenzani as the Count. She will be one of the Valkyries in Die Walkure. She will also be the understudy for Liu (important secondary soprano) in Turandot and the understudy for Marguerite (leading lady) in Faust.
Morrison doesn’t take any of this newfound celebrity for granted, although she has worked hard to get to this point. “I had always known the Lyric to be a company of the highest quality, and I had come to know the Ryan Opera Center, specifically, as a leading young artist program while I was a student at Eastman School of Music [Rochester, New York],” Morrison said. “Once I finished my course work, I did research to learn if any of the voice professionals at Lyric offered lessons. That led me to my teacher Julia Faulkner’s website. There was an option to book a lesson, so I selected it with no prior communication. I studied with her and when auditions for the Ryan Opera Center came around, the next natural step was for me to participate. I went through with the process and here I am!”
While working toward this goal, Morrison participated in many singing competitions, including winning the Classical Singer National University Competition, singing at the Moscow Center for Performing Arts, and performing with the Eastman School of Music Wind Ensemble. More recently in Chicago, Morrison was included on the Vocal Arts Chicago’s 2016 Best Of Opera in Chicago list for her debut as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, and she opened the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2016 with the National Anthem.
Morrison touched upon the many ways that opera can be considered a glimpse into the world. “The most important way for me is through language. Dissecting, internalizing and performing music with words in other languages reminds me that although things might be expressed differently, many ideas and thoughts are universal,” she said. “Notwithstanding the cultural differences that exist, especially with the passage of time, there are always relatable and contemporary themes that allow me to feel a connection with many people from different places and times.
The 27-year-old offered advice about the importance of young people attending performances. “Exposing young people to this art form gives them a chance to develop a taste that is not cultivated in mainstream media and art. This knowledge and hopefully appreciation opens young people up to so much more of the world, its beauty, and its opportunities.”
Morrison, who attended high school in the South suburbs, says she is told that she started singing before she even started talking. “I sang all through school in various choirs and other performances. I also began to sing solo for church around the age of 12 after a short period of shyness. Lana Manson was my first official voice teacher who introduced me to classical singing in high school [Rich South High School in Richton Park]. By then, I was an alto and regular soloist for the gospel choir and a 1st alto in the concert choir,” she added.
Morrison has a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama, followed by a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music.
She has traveled the world, touring Moscow, Russia, with the Aeolians of Oakwood University. While on that tour, she performed Margaret Bonds’ “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” at the Moscow Center for Performing Arts for their international Christmas Festival. She has also studied in Germany with the Neil Semer Vocal Institute. However, her biggest accomplishment has already begun with the Ryan Opera Center. She is excited to achieve “a highly developed and refined sense of artistry that will wow audiences on an international stage and a pragmatic skill set that will allow me to move through the ins and outs of working at that level with a great deal of professionalism and confidence.”
Look for Morrison during the upcoming season of Lyric Opera. For more information about the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, which for more than four decades has provided the finest up-and-coming singers and pianists with unparalleled training and experience, visit https://www.lyricopera.org/ryanoperacenter/about.